So, you’ve heard about the good old plant-based diet. But, what’s so appealing about going vegan? Well, there are many reasons why people decide to cut out whole food groups that other people would consider necessary. For one, some people decide to leave out meat and dairy for health reasons. And, others go veggie because they don’t want to contribute to animal suffering. Plus, some people decide to limit or cut out meat, dairy, and eggs entirely because it may simply be better for the environment. But, if you do go vegan, you may be wondering, well, what to eat. So, here’s our list of essential vegan foods so you can do the transition more flawlessly. All hail to the veg!
Essential Vegan Foods: Non-Dairy Milk
Okay, that’s probably not what you expected at the top of the list. But, as a vegan, if you asked me what I need to keep in my refrigerator at all times, I’d definitely say that non-dairy milk tops my list of essential vegan foods. And, that’s because milk is so prevalent in our cooking and regular mealtimes in the United States. It’s hard to find hearty recipes that don’t call for milk or cream. Especially with the holidays coming up, the rich seasonal dishes often contain some kind of creamy base. But, even if you’re not a fantastic cook, you’re going to want some milk substitute. Not only do most brands fortify their products with important vitamins, but they can also serve up a healthy dose of calcium, which you may be lacking if you’re not sure how to go vegan properly. Plus, it’s always nice when you come home and just want a bowl of cereal.
Essential Vegan Foods: Beans
All right, you probably saw THIS one coming. After all, everyone and their mother always asks us vegans, “So where do you get your protein?” (I’ll let you in on a little secret: vegetables contain all the protein you need, if you eat enough of them!) But, most of the time, I simply throw out this concise answer: “Beans.” Yes, the magical fruit. Beans have an important place in the cuisines of many different cultures. And, they can take a dish from bland to hearty in the time it takes to open a can. Plus, they’re pretty cheap, especially if you buy them in bulk dry. There’s no doubt that beans have earned their place in the list of essential vegan foods.
Essential Vegan Foods: Grains
Let’s be honest: even most of the people you know who AREN’T vegan absolutely LOVE pasta. And, that’s because carbohydrates give us that warm, fuzzy feeling of a home-cooked meal (and they provide our bodies with essential sugars). But, is it easy to find vegan pasta? The truth is that a lot of pasta is vegan – you should just avoid egg noodles in particular (common in Asian cuisine). However, grains are always vegan, if you cook them right. My top picks are quinoa and brown rice. And, that’s mostly because they pack a nice fiber punch while rounding out the meal nicely. So, for essential vegan foods, don’t forget your grains.
Essential Vegan Foods: Spices
The first thing most people think about vegan food is that it’s going to be bland. Well, news flash: a lot of food is bland, unless you flavor it. That’s why the English were so psyched to get spices from India, after all (if I paid attention in history class). Any dish, no matter how thoroughly vegan it is, can get an incredible kick of flavor from the right spice palate. Of course, the spices you pick depend on the dish you’re making, so crack a gourmet cookbook and get to work with your essential vegan foods.
Essential Vegan Foods: Flax Seeds
This may seem oddly specific, considering how general the other elements of this article have been. But, flax seeds are really important, for one big reason: omega-3 fatty acids. This is a really important nutrient that most people normally get from fish. And, some people even take fish oil supplements to get their omega-3s. But, vegans don’t eat fish. So, you’ll want to find your omega-3 fatty acids elsewhere, and flax seeds are great for that. Grind them up in your coffee grinder or food processor, and sprinkle them on everything from smoothies to dinner. Plus, they’re high in a variety of other vitamins and minerals. So, keep flax seeds on your essential vegan foods list!
There are a lot of other things that you can use in vegan cooking, obviously. (Good luck making a meal with just flax seeds, spices, grains, beans, and non-dairy milk. Actually, a crafty vegan could definitely do it.) But, this list is a good place to start if you’re not sure what you’re supposed to eat. If you’re really not confident in your knowledge of veganism, and you think you’re not getting enough of crucial vitamins and minerals, be sure to take a multivitamin to start off. And, heads up that all vegans should take a B12 supplement, unless you’re SURE you’re getting your B12 in foods like nutritional yeast, tempeh, or almond milk. Of course, don’t forget your fruits and vegetables – this is a plant-based diet, after all. In no time, you’ll be a level-10 vegan. (Just kidding, we don’t have ranks. Or do we? You’ll just have to become vegan to find out.)